Officer John (Johnny) Poland, with the South Lake Tahoe police department, has been arrested and charged with five counts of witness tampering after a three year joint investigation with the FBI (Swankie, 2013). This kind of headline is, unfortunately, becoming all too common. It is alleged that Poland had engaged in sexual activities with underage students of a high school while he was working as a school resource officer in 2006 (Roxas & Chhuon, 2013).
In the years following, it is alleged that Poland had instructed several individuals to lie to investigators and dispose of, or manipulate evidence that had been revealed during department briefings that Poland had attended. Also, Poland was observed interacting with a known gang member’s girlfriend in ways that were ‘questionable’, while the gang member was the subject of investigation. He was recorded warning the woman there is a FBI investigation and “if there is anything f***ing bad on your phone, go ahead and delete it” (Campion, 2013). When situations like this arise, the how and whys seem impossible to determine and explore in a narrower focus.
Watch the News 10 video on this case for more details.
In Maurice Punch’s text “Police Corruption: Deviance, accountability and reform in policing”, he outlines several different typologies of police deviance and corruption. Punch combines his typologies with those of the Knapp Commission and Barker and Roebuck. There are three categories that cover the causes of deviance, ‘externally driven,’ which is any outside influence such as political pressure or control, ‘within the police domain,’ which includes behaviours like ‘grass eating’ and ‘meat eating’, and finally ‘system failure,’ which blames the institution or justice system as a whole. The typology that best describes the case of John Poland is the category of ‘Meat-eating: predatory (strategic) corruption,’ which is categorized ‘within the police domain’. This typology describes a police officer who actively and aggressively pursues illegal activities for personal gains. Meaning, this type of officer would affiliate with organized crime groups and even commit criminal acts themselves, such as, extortion, ‘testilying’, thefts, assaults and even murder. The use of this typology in this case is important because it offers explanations that go behind the crimes and into the mind of the offending officer. It rules out excuses such as, ‘it was just a one off mistake’ which attempts to belittle the prior intent. This helps us see that Poland is, in fact, a predator of the vulnerable operating within a police organization. Poland is calculated and proactive in intimidating his victims and committing crimes. Interestingly, before this investigation, Poland was fired for misconduct during his years at the high school and fought the decision in court to get his job back and won (Jensen, 2009).
Now, because of the work done by Punch, the Knapp Commission, and Barker and Roebuck, we can begin to understand the causes of police corruption. And, more specifically, how officers like John Poland have become text-book examples of ‘meat-eaters’ operating within police forces around the world today.
Further readings on this story can be found on the references below.
Campion, C. (2013). US District Court Document. Retrieved from News 10: http://www.news10.net/assetpool/documents/130123071054_TahoeCop.pdf/
Jensen, A. (2009). Johnny Be Good: South Lake Tahoe Police Officer Johnny Poland will return to work. Retrieved from Tahoe Daily Tribune: http://www.tahoedailytribune.com/article/20091029/NEWS/910299984/
Roxas, G., & Chhuon, S. (2013). South Lake Tahoe Police officer accused of witness tampering arrested. Retrieved from News 10: http://www.news10.net/news/article/226489/2/South-Lake-Tahoe-Police-officer-accused-of-witness-tampering-arrested
Swankie, G. (2013). South Lake Tahoe Police Officer Arrested . Retrieved from FBI: http://www.fbi.gov/sacramento/press-releases/2013/south-lake-tahoe-police-officer-arrested/view